Tuesday, June 07, 2005
Bang On A Can/Terry Riley: In C
Anytime I find myself in a casino with its banks of electronic slot machines tuned to the pitches of C Major I stop and reflect upon how the environment superficially takes on the texture of In C.
This morning I plugged into the Bang On A Can ensemble's interpretation of this Terry Riley classic as the necessary aural component of my exercise routine. The score is simple. No instrumentation is specified. Just a series of notated cells and an open invitation for each performer to work their way through them at their own pace. Forty-five minutes and five miles later I felt I had traveled much farther upon a mesmerizing sonic texture.
Composed in 1964, this is Terry Riley's most famous work. His total compositional output is completely under rated. But I can understand why this one is so enduring and such a great sonic indulgence. This Bang On A Can version is realized with great taste and sensitivity. It has a relaxed sense of restraint without sacrificing the characteristic New York intensity one expects from this ensemble. The timbral density fluctuates as players explore wide dynamic ranges within their performing parts allowing surprising levels of detail to be exposed and subsumed into the larger texture. Each live experience and each recorded performance of this work reveals so much and this is an excellent one.
Forty-one years later In C is still a sonic shock of steady pulse and strong tonal center. It erupts as a persistent example of the sound of tonal stasis when it is freed from the extraneous layers of syntax, language, dominant/subdominant structure, etc. Freed from exposition, development and other formal trappings In C ventures into a steady-state, trance-like texture that evokes rituals rarely explored in "classical" music traditions.